November 28, 2018  |  by Leigh Havelick

Prior to Bloom, I spent the majority of my PR-career working with innovative, high-tech companies that were constantly releasing the latest and greatest products. I developed relationships with key reporters in the space who would actually call me to ask, “What’s next?” As journalists charged with covering news and trends for their given beat, they wanted to be briefed on the technology and have early access to the products in order to be the first to write in-depth coverage. Sure… I had my fair share of challenges managing crisis communications around news of security breaches and software glitches along with navigating strategies on how to uniquely position yet another product update. But the pitching? The pitching came easy because it was straightforward and relevant to a wide range of outlets and reporters covering those industry news updates.

Fast forward to my time at Bloom and being fortunate to work with some of Portland’s most influential nonprofit organizations. While I fully believe in the work they do and the goodness that is a direct result of the passion and heart of our clients, securing nonprofit PR coverage was less straightforward than my past experience working on behalf of technology brands. In fact, not so very long ago, I was ready to give up. Something felt broken and I didn’t know how to fix it.  Despite who I was pitching and what I was pitching my efforts and outreach seemed to fall on deaf ears. Obviously, I needed to change my approach (and likely my attitude).

Brainstorming with my team helped. Showing myself some grace went a long way.  Landing a few key pieces of coverage made the ego feel a bit less bruised. And along the way, I gained some perspective that I hope might help others…

Do Your Homework

Stay current on industry news. Watch for trends off which you can piggyback. Have in-depth knowledge of who covers the space and what they write about. Then stalk them on Twitter (I’m only half-kidding). I have found that reporters are much more likely to open emails when they are personalized – if you can personalize the subject line, even better. For example, I was pitching a syndicated reporter for a healthcare-related nonprofit I was supporting. The reporter had recently written about Tampon Art (yes, I am serious). Additionally, she noted on Twitter, “I write a lot of things and people read them.” I added some humor in personalizing my pitch and she commented, “Great pitch. The best I’ve received in a long time.” I’ve actually had reporters thank me for personalizing pitches. And, since getting your email opened is in and of itself a huge win, here are a couple more subject line examples I created specifically based on what people had previously covered:

  • It’s No Samurai Sword Attack, But a Pitch Nonetheless
  • Fellow Boy Mom with Lots of YUCK

Seriously, have no shame as long as it’s relevant.

Focus the Story on a Person or Group of People Impacted by the Nonprofit Organization.  Not the Nonprofit Itself.

This may seem counterintuitive to what you’re trying to accomplish – amazing coverage that underlines the mission of your nonprofit; however, the very nature of nonprofits make for relatable and emotional stories that often tug on heartstrings. A good story puts a face behind your mission by describing not just what your organization does, but why you do it.  Nothing can better showcase the actual work of your nonprofit than the individuals the organization is positively impacting — the lives that are being changed. I encourage you to spend some time learning the beautiful stories that already exist within your organization — and leverage the heck out of them!  While data-driven statistics are great tools, they should serve as supporting points for your human interest stories.

Tie to Trends and Larger Stories

We all know the questions good pitches answer:

  • Why now?
  • Why is this news?
  • Who cares?

Perhaps a new drug has been announced to treat a disease for which your nonprofit organization provides emotional support and healing. Or recent statistics are released on the growing number of homeless and your organization helps troubled teens get off the streets. You get the picture. The more timely and relevant you can package your nonprofit PR story, the greater the chances it will resonate with reporters.

Build Relationships

Now that I’ve been doing this a few years, I am pleased to call members of the media not only colleagues, but friends. It’s important as you’re pitching a story to keep in mind these people are simply trying to do their jobs and typically working under tight deadlines. Don’t take it personally if they don’t respond the first time you email them.

  • Reach out to reporters when you don’t have a story to place and ask what stories they’d like to work on – what topics they want to write about – who would be their dream interview? This way, when push comes to shove, you’re not pitching them blindly; you’ve already shown a genuine interest in what would be most interesting to them.
  • Make their jobs as easy as possible. If you’re pitching broadcast coverage, outline who would be interviewed, audio and visual assets you could provide in support of the story, location and why they are the right reporter/station to cover it. Be concise – but dot your i’s and cross your t’s.
  • Write thank you notes. Let reporters know that you appreciate their time and their coverage. It really goes a long way in making a lasting impression.

At the end of the day, don’t give up or assume you should retire from PR if you’re not getting traction with the story you set out to tell. Pitch different people, work new angles, and keep trying until a door opens. Because it will. And it’s so worth it. Cheers to your pitching success!